Have you ever met a bladesmith? We hadn’t until we visited Paulo Tuna’s atelier in Caldas da Rainha. We knocked on a large blue door and Paulo came out. He looks like a revolutionary–someone who can bend the world to his will.
Paulo trained as an artist at the local art school. For many years, he built large sculptures that questioned our notions of weight, scale, and balance. But he was always interested in knives. His grandfather gave him a pocket knife for his 7th birthday. Later, he took him to a blacksmith so that Paulo could make his first knife.
Knife drawings inspired by old art books fill the walls of the atelier. “Drawing is easy. Forging is hard,” says Paulo. He switched from sculpture to knife making after a friend placed an order for two knives. Paulo enjoyed the production process and started learning all he could about bladesmithing, even working in cutlery factories for a while. In 2012, he began making knives full time. An order of 50 knives from René Redzepi, Noma’s famous chef, confirmed that he was on the right track.
“Do you want me to make a knife?” Paulo asked. He takes a steel blade and places it inside a red-hot oven, heated to almost 1,000 degrees Celsius. The steel seems to resist at first, but, little by little, it becomes as red as planet Mars. Then the alchemy starts. Paulo brushes the anvil with a steel brush, takes the blade from the oven, and hammers it to thin the metal. Sparks fly. When the steel becomes crimson, he puts it back into the oven until it regains a fiery-red color. Paulo repeats the process, using different hammers to bend the steel to his designs. Then, he places the blade in a bed of ashes to cool it off. The next step is to sand the knife. He leaves some of the hammer marks as a record of the forging process.
Paulo likes to rescue holly or olive wood pieces destined to the fireplace and turn them into elegant knife handles. He also uses Bakelite from old domino sets. Currently, his favorite handles come from the wood of a 300-year-old tree from the Bussaco forest.
He urged us to try his knives. They are well balanced, perfectly proportioned, surprisingly light, and frighteningly sharp. Paulo Tuna makes knives that are works of art.
Click here for Paul Tuna’s website.